A second life for old containers

More than 20 million containers are in circulation worldwide – on ships, trains and trucks. A container is used for 13 years on average before landing on the scrap heap. But the following examples from around the world show that there are other options.

Two years ago, when the French port city of Le Havre celebrated its 500th birthday, it was supposed to be something special – a gift to the city, its residents and visitors. So, as part of the “A Summer in Le Havre” campaign, the city’s higher-ups brought numerous artists to the city and tasked them with transforming it into an open-air museum.

Among these creatives was Vincent Ganivet. Born in 1976 in the Paris suburb of Suresnes, the artist erected his monumental birthday present to the city, the installation “Catène de Containers”, on the Quai de Southampton: two interconnected arches of brightly coloured containers filled with cement. With his Eiffel Tower of Le Havre, as the locals call it, Ganivet evokes the maritime tradition of the French city, which is home to the country’s second-largest port. “I wanted to create a sculpture that depicts Le Havre’s identity as a seaport,” Ganivet explains. “Containers were an obvious choice to me, as they symbolise the trade and internationality for which Le Havre has stood for centuries.”

So, he ordered 36 white containers and then painted them in the colours of international shipping companies. The monumental work of art now towers over the Quai de Southampton, a kind of gateway to the port, where thousands of  containers are handled every day. “My sculpture stands between the sea and the city, welcoming the arriving ships. And it celebrates the container as something it is rarely seen as: an object of art.”

Business and wellness in a container: the 25hours hotel HafenCity
With a view of the river Elbe, the harbour, cranes and containers, 25hours Hotel HafenCity is the trendy place to go for travellers to Hamburg. Located in the urban district “HafenCity”, the hotel beckons with its hanseatic charm. And this comes as no accident, as the big port terminals of this Hanseatic city are visible directly across from the hotel. There, shipping companies discharge thousands of containers every day filled with goods from all over the world.

Given these circumstances, it was an obvious choice for the hotel’s owners to also make its design evoke the very specific feeling of the big, wide world in the truest sense of the word. Take the building’s sixth floor, for example, where guests can sweat in the sauna while enjoying a panoramic view of the Elbe. But this isn’t any old sauna. In fact, any Finn would be jealous to see the “Harbour Sauna”, made out of a converted Hapag-Lloyd 40-foot container. But it’s also business-like in the conference room – or, better put, the “overseas container”. That’s the name of another converted Hapag-Lloyd container, which is integrated into the hotel’s lobby and where up to 15 people can meet.

The containers were modified by the Behrens shipyard in the Finkenwerder quarter of Hamburg to fit perfectly into the hotel’s interior. “We’re located right in the heart of the Port of Hamburg, with the Elbe and the giant container ships right in front of our door,” says Patrick Moreira, General Manager of the hotel. “And we also wanted to reflect this typical Hanseatic character in the hotel, so we chose Hapag-Lloyd containers to be a very special stylistic feature.”

Smart living: At home in old containers

Wallets made of truck tarpaulins, jumpers made of plastic bottles, lampshades made of footballs: Upcycling, the recovery and repurposing of already used products or objects, has become a trend. Containerwerk, a company based in the south-western German city of Stuttgart, is now breathing new life into decommissioned sea freight containers. With the slogan “Future is living in a cube”, it transforms old boxes into mobile living and office modules. Its special trick is insulating the containers using a sustainable technique in a way that makes them particularly energy-efficient without having the insulation take up too much space.

In less than two hours, the serial process can transform an old container into a new, modern room module. “One advantage of containers is their standardised size,” says Michael Haiser, who co-founded Containerwerk together with his partner, Ivan Mallinowski. “The boxes can be combined however you like as modules. This opens up many possibilities for the efficient use of space, especially in densely populated areas, such as inner cities.”

What’s more, the containers can be placed on pre-existing structures relatively easily. This vertical type of architecture is particularly in demand in large cities, where plans call for creating more living space via densification. Yet another advantage of the boxy modules is their flexible use. “The modules can be configured, used and transported as desired,” says Ivan Mallinowski. “So they adapt to our requirements rather than the other way around. And that’s the future of living.”

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